Juliet Coultier is fast becoming New York’s hottest modern artist. Her erotic sculptures have won enough attention that she has attracted both art fanatics and protestors, a sign of her rising success. But just when she thinks she can fly no higher, her world crumbles down around her when her exhibit at the museum is destroyed by a bomb. She finds herself the target of a hired killer and at the heart of a madman’s jealousy. Her only hope is that Joe Anniston, a detective familiar with the bomber, can find the man responsible for destroying her work.
Joe Anniston is still carrying the pain of losing his wife. All he has left are his memories of her and his job. When he is assigned to protect Juliet Coultier, a woman with talent, style, and sex appeal, he also discovers that he isn’t the only one who wants to protect her. Following the clues given by the hired bomber, he knows he hasn’t much time to find the person who is out to get Juliet. But will his growing affection for her lead him in the wrong direction or can he find the man who wants her dead before it’s too late?
|Publisher:||Liquid Silver Books|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||360 KB|
About the Author
A storyteller at a young age, Sable began writing small stories as a child for her mother. However, it wasn’t until she was well into her twenties that she realized that her calling was sharing her stories with a larger audience than just family members and friends.
Sable is dedicated to her craft and to bringing her readers quality fiction filled with gratifying and passionate relationships. For her, erotica and romance are one and the same, stories written to touch the mind, body, heart, and soul. Sable is proud that Liquid Silver Books has given her the chance to do just that.
Read an Excerpt
New York Contemporary Art Museum
Aphrodite was a Leo, Joe Anniston thought to himself as the featured artist at the gallery opening finished the fifteen-minute mythology lesson on the Greek goddess of love. Though he wasn't an astrology expert, he'd read enough about the zodiac to know a Leo would definitely require such a long introduction.
Finally, the artist pulled the cloth from the piece and unveiled her sculpture of Aphrodite. Joe frowned with disappointment as he examined the chiseled stonework of a nude woman.
The artist was more interesting than her sculpted interpretation of the goddess, Joe decided quickly. The artist had bright red hair pulled tightly into a knot, except for a few tendrils that hung freely about her face. Large almond eyes fringed with thick lashes and a full mouth promised more than Greek mythology. She was a bronzed beauty, tall, with a lithe grace that Joe noticed as she moved around the sculpture.
She wore a bright turquoise shirt that tucked tightly into a pair of black slacks. Thin waist, slim hips, but she wasn't without form, he observed from the back of the crowd. In fact, every curve seemed perfectly shaped for her body. He stared at her breasts. C-cups. He was certain of that.
She offered a practiced smile as she called for the crowd to follow her to the next covered piece of the set, Hephaestus. As she walked, she began a new lesson about Aphrodite's husband and Joe found his attention drawn to her ass. Now, there was a piece of art.
"And here he is." She slipped the cloth from atop the piece and Joe finally tore his gaze from the woman to glance around the museum. Only a fewstragglers had drifted away from the crowd to view some of the other pieces scattered about the gallery. The officer near the door nodded in Joe's direction when he looked at him. Nothing suspicious.
Joe walked casually past the crowd as they were told to feel free to look around, and then turned back when the officer at the opposite door also indicated all was well. Many of those attending the unveiling were now milling about, whispering over the sculptures and paintings as they wandered past them.
A waitress with a tray passed and he lifted one of the long-stemmed flutes, then headed towards the Aphrodite statue. Most of the art patrons were expensive and fashionably dressed. They drank with their pinkies lifted and spoke with their noses in the air. Joe hated pretension.
"The expression on her face is remarkable." A man was speaking with the artist as Joe neared. "So much emotion manipulated from the stone. You continue to impress me, Jules."
"Let's hope someone else here is equally impressed." Juliet Coultier, the exhibiting artist, answered. She was fast becoming one of the most talked about women both in New York's circle of art fanatics and among those who opposed the honest nudity and erotica depicted in most of her work.
Joe had seen the crowd of protesters when he'd first arrived at the museum that morning. Some held up signs, while others had called out to those who entered the museum. One man had actually approached Joe, but the moment he flashed his badge, the protester focused his attention on someone else.
As he stepped closer to the sculpture, Joe could feel the artist's gaze on him. He studied the face of stone and, taking a sip of his mineral water, he looked down at Aphrodite's hands. They were folded across her body, covering her more intimate areas. This sculpture lacked the attention to detail that its masculine counterpart portrayed. Pity. A bit more detail here and there and he might have been interested in purchasing the piece himself.
"Can't you just feel the passion that embodies her?" The man who'd been speaking with the artist turned and spoke to Joe.
"Actually, she looks bored," Joe answered. "Perhaps if the other sculpture had been one of her lovers, rather than a man she ended up hating and divorcing, she might have more of the passion you are looking for."
"You're jesting." The man laughed.
Joe slanted a glance at him, and then looked past him to another man making his way towards the door. There was something familiar about his short frame that instantly put Joe on guard.
"I do not jest," Joe murmured absently, his gaze narrowing. The man was moving too quickly. Something wasn't right. Joe took a step forward, and then called out to the officer at the door just as the man began to quicken his pace. When the officer moved to intercept him, the man bolted.
"Hell," Joe growled. A moment later, the entire gallery rocked with the explosion. He turned as the goddess of love and her stone husband plunged to the floor and shattered.
Juliet screamed with horror and fell to her knees, reaching for the broken pieces. Around her, the hushed crowd broke into a loud frantic race for the door as portions of the ceiling crashed around them.
She bit back her sobs as the man who'd spoken of her work just moments before it was destroyed strode through the settling dust towards her. She stared behind her numbly at the broken pieces of stone as he grabbed her and hauled her out of the gallery.
"Search the premises for other explosives." The man spoke to one of the officers as they passed and her head snapped around so she could stare at him. She tried to jerk her arm away from him but he held on.
"I'm Detective Joe Anniston. I need you to come with me." He didn't even look at her as he spoke. "Are you all right?"
She nodded, though she was sure he didn't see it.
Her exhibition had received the brunt of the damage. The bomb had been meant to destroy her work. Juliet gasped when she saw Brett holding his bleeding arm, but he nodded to her that he was all right. He looked as if he might cry over her ruined artwork. She wanted to go to him, but the detective holding her arm dragged her out the entrance to the gallery.
Anger welled inside of her, pushing her sorrow aside. "You knew there was a possibility of this happening." The realization hit her. She'd seen his silent exchanges with those guarding the doors of the gallery but had not made the connection. Now it seemed obvious.
"In here, Miss Coultier." The badge opened the door to the security room and waited for her to enter. Joe Anniston, her mind repeated his name. He didn't look like a Joe. He looked like the asshole that had just allowed her statues to be destroyed.
He waited in silence as she entered the small room, and then stepped inside behind her and closed the door.
Juliet glanced at Garret, the museum director, and then at Lloyd, the security guard who sat at the panel of security screens. "You're a cop. You were supposed to be protecting my work," she continued after taking in the apologetic expression on Garret's face.
"I wanted to tell you about the threat, Juliet, but Detective Anniston insisted that the less everyone knew, the better," Garret explained.
"Some detective work."
Joe turned to glance at her, his mouth pressed in a thin line before nodding at the security guard. "Rewind to moments before the bomb went off."
Lloyd obeyed and then pressed "play."
"There." Detective Anniston tapped the monitor with his index finger. Lloyd stopped the tape. "Do you recognize this man, Miss Coultier?"
Juliet leaned in beside him, studying the black and white image. "I remember him from the presentation. He kept looking at me rather than my work. He stood in the back of the crowd."
"Have you seen him before today?"
Juliet shook her head. "No."
"Are you certain?"
"What are you going to do about this, Detective? Thousands of dollars' worth of art have been destroyed because you failed to do your job. I could have postponed the showing. It could have been prevented if I'd known I was a target today."
"His name is Emil Turst. His specialty is compact explosives." Joe met Juliet's gaze evenly. "Believe me, Miss Coultier, if you had been his target, you would not be standing here. You'd be in pieces along with your thousands of dollars' worth of art. Now, are you certain you've never seen him before today?"
Juliet felt like hitting his very square jaw. Instead, she bit the inside of her lip and looked again at the monitor. Lean, narrowed features, and seemingly empty eyes; he reminded her of a serpent.
"I'm certain," she assured him.
"Then today's bombing was a clear message that he was hired. It was a warning of something more to come."
"How can you be sure?" Garret asked.
"Because Emil Turst doesn't stray from his methods and procedures unless he's doing something for money. He's predictable by choice. His targets never live and he always ... always ... meets them before he leaves his bombs within three feet of them." Joe glanced at Juliet. "Today he did not approach Miss Coultier. He placed a device that pales in comparison to his regular work in a location that would do minor damage. He's working for someone else and wants me to know it."
"This is minor?" Juliet shook her head, pointing at the door. "Eight months of my life's work is scattered about the museum. And if this man was hired to ... kill ... me, and he could have succeeded, why didn't he?"
Joe didn't answer, but she could tell when he looked back to the monitor and the line of his lips straightened, that he knew the answer.
"There are many who protest Juliet's work." Garret scratched at his balding head.
"Most of them are harmless religious groups," Juliet argued. "I doubt they would jump from flyers and prayer circles to bombing the museum." She slid a hand to the back of her neck to massage the tension knotting there.
"My friend was hurt. I should go to him," she said after a few uncomfortable moments of silence.
"A minor injury." Joe glanced at Garret. "I want to speak with her alone." Garret nodded and hurried from the room.
"I'm certain that I'm certain I haven't seen him, Detective," Juliet said wearily, facing the handsome detective.
She'd noticed him the moment he'd joined the group. Tall, lean, nice build; but it had been his startling blue eyes that attracted most of her attention. She'd watched his scrutiny of her work. His expression had been thoughtful.
Now, in the small security room, his presence was magnified. She could smell his aftershave despite the dusty smell of the explosion. Standing as close as she was, she could almost feel the heat from his body, no doubt accelerated from the excitement.
"Whoever hired Turst didn't know as much about him as they should have. The only reason someone would hire him to do a job is if they wanted you dead." He gave her a moment to take in his words. "You are in grave danger. You're right. This was no act by protesters. Can you think of anyone who would want to do you harm?"
Juliet shook her head. "If I could, I would've already given you a name. I don't know anyone who would do this to me."
Joe nodded and glanced at the monitor again, sighing heavily. "I'm sorry that your work was destroyed. I didn't see the bastard until the last minute."
Juliet saw the momentary tenderness in his expression, but then it was gone, replaced with a guarded expression as he reached for the door.
"I'll have an officer drive you home," Joe said.
"I can't leave," she argued. "This is part of my life that was destroyed. Part of me. My friend is hurt and I have to see how much of my work was ruined."
"You've suffered a loss and survived a bombing, Miss Coultier. With all due respect, there isn't a damn thing you can do here right now. Go home. Take a bath. And try to relax." Joe waved at one of the officers. "Take her home. Make a sweep of her house and then set up surveillance." The officer nodded and held out his hand, indicating she should come with him. She thought about arguing, and then relented to the sense he spoke and stepped forward.
She rode numbly in the patrol car, speaking only when the officer asked her address. She couldn't believe it. Her statues were gone. She'd worked so hard on them.
Juliet looked up to find that the car was stopped in front of her house and the officer was standing next to her door, holding a hand out to help her. She didn't take his hand, noticing the look of pity in his eyes. She didn't want pity. She wanted her statues back.
An hour and a half later, Juliet sank into the oval bathtub of lavender scented bubbles and inhaled deeply, eyes closed. It had seemed to take the officer forever to do a secure sweep of her house. Finally, he'd left her in peace, and settled into his place across the street in his patrol car.
Now, she lay motionless, listening to the soft popping of the suds that surrounded her. Someone had purposely destroyed the beauty she'd created. Her mind flew through the faces she remembered in the groups of protesters. None had seemed evil enough to do this to her.
She arched and dipped her head back into the bath, then opened her eyes and slid up to rest against the smooth surface of the tub. Detective Anniston. It was his face that stood out in her mind. He had scrutinized her from beneath his dark heavy brow. His face had been a canvas of sharp angles and straight lines, perfectly put together. He'd been clean-shaven, but it was not difficult to imagine a shadow creeping across the plane of his strong jaw and around his thin but defined lips.
Her artist's eye recalled his guarded expression. He'd had a thoughtful look on his face that had allowed only a moment of gentleness. Even his voice had softened when he'd spoken kindly to her. But in an instant, that hard shell closed around the tenderness and pulled it back within him.
He'd seen her Aphrodite as she had intended her to be seen. Brett had seen beauty, but she'd dug deep into the written emotions of aged legend and tried to convey the truth of the beautiful goddess. Joe Anniston had seen that truth. More impressively, he'd spoken it aloud. And then that joyous moment had ended with the bomb that destroyed her masterpiece.
Pain wrenched in her gut and she lifted a fist and brought it down hard into the water, causing the bubbles to shift and spill over the side of the tub. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she finally bowed her head and sobbed.
Why would anyone do something so cruel? And who in hell could want her dead? She had no enemies. She barely had any friends. Her work was her life. Whoever was out to get her had targeted the very thing that would hurt her the most. Pain pounded in her temple. It was too much to think about.
She rose from the tub and dried off, then slipped into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. She checked out the window and made sure the cop was still there. She couldn't help feeling paranoid now.
She looked around for something to do. Nothing offered her any solace. Panic started to build inside her stomach. Someone wanted her dead! Then she glanced through the windows of the French doors to the building past the pool. Her studio. She could still work. When she was working, she was collected and focused. When she was working, there was no room for becoming hysterical. When she was working, she was in control.
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